College is a time for exploration. It’s a time to figure out what you want to do with your life, whether you’re ready or not. For me, it was a time of realizing what I did not want to do.
I chose to go to an art school because not only could I not stand the thought of sorority life, but I have always been artistically inclined and maintained a love for photography. I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer, travel the world, and take powerful pictures of people with stories to tell (who doesn’t want to do that?). But after a year or so of the weird world of art school, I realized that it is not as simple as studying something and then doing what you want. So naturally, I started taking classes where there are guaranteed jobs; advertising. After talking to my highly artistic, never-sell-out friends, I thought that “selling out” meant going into a “money-grubbing” industry such as advertising, but I thought that might be the only option for an era depleted of good jobs. Well after one class I literally said “screw this sh*t” and opted to stick to the strictly photography route and hope for the best. (Even if it meant eating macaroni and cheese for every meal for the rest of my life.)
Well I am now two years into the post grad life…and I work in advertising. And not only did I betray my stubborn “art comes first” mentality, but I am not even a photographer working in advertising. I am a video editor, and I’m (usually) loving it.
In school, I realized that many of the routes for a photography major to wander down post-grad were not for me. Assissting professional photographers for years, getting paid nothing, and working your ass off to maybe possibly one day get a gig that will allow you to break into the industry? No thanks (I like eating). Becoming a professional wedding photographer taking pretty pictures of engagement rings, and a lacey wedding dress blowing in the wind in the middle of a grassy field? No thanks (can’t take that sappiness). The only job that I wanted to do was be a photojournalist. And honestly, I still want to do that. But what I didn’t realize in college that I realize now, is that you have to start at the very bottom. Any job you eventually want, you have to allow yourself time to gain experience in the industry. Get to know people, because you’ll need a favor from them later on. And why not start in a job that actually allows you to live in New York City, without living with 5 other people in one room in Bushwick? Or that allows you to feel comfortable buying that lens you don’t really need but would love to have?
I used to think that roughing it would be better than doing something that wouldn’t make me happy. And to some extent, that’s still true. But how do you know something doesn’t make you happy until you experience it? If I had not accepted this job that admittedly scared me, I would never have found out how much I enjoy editing video. My mind wouldn’t have been opened to the story-telling opportunities that video and photography can explore when combined. And you know what? Working in advertising is not only giving me real world experience, but it is allowing me to have the time I need to hone my skills, learn everything I can, and get to know the industry before naively attempting to “break into the industry”.
I have to admit, there is a place in the ad industry for your own creativity. While the focus is on client’s needs and you essentially can only do so much with what you’re handed, there will always be projects that allow for more creative freedom or brainstorming than others. And it’s also a whole different kind of creativity trying to adhere to what a client wants while still trying to keep the project to a good standard. That’s where it gets fun.
All in all, I challenge you creative types to explore. Explore your options in your industry, explore options in others, and keep your mind open. You never know when something will be a blessing in disguise, or will flip your mentality completely upside down. And while everyone says life is short, you have time. You have time to screw up and fix your mistakes. And you have time to explore and try new things. Be open, be smart, be courageous.